US (1978) Dir. Jeannot Szwarc
Sequels. Do we really need them? If there is a story to continue or maybe the characters are part of a universe that can be expanded upon with new adventures then why not? But if this is purely because a film was a hit and therefore money can potentially be made from a follow up then the jury is always going to be out.
When Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchey’s novel Jaws blew up at the box office in 1975 Universal wanted to capitalise on this success right away but Spielberg felt there was nothing else to say about a killer shark and went off to make Close Encounters Of The Third Kind instead. Universal persisted and after many hiccups Jaws 2 hit the screens in 1978 with arguably one of the greatest taglines in film history “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water..”
Four years after the events of the first film, the waters surrounding Amity Island are shark free – or so we thought. A diving crew searching the wreckage of the Orca (Quint’s ship in the first film) are attacked by something (okay a huge shark); later, a young woman is killed while waterskiing and the driver dies when she tries to defend herself against the shark with a flare gun blowing the boat up.
It is not until the body of a killer whale (or Orca – see what they did there?) washes up on the beach that Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) suspects a shark attack from the bites in the body. And just like before, mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) thinks Brody is paranoid and ignores him as it will sour prospective business deals. But Brody is proven correct when his sons Mike (Mark Gruner) and Sean (Marc Gilpin) are among a group of kids stranded at sea with the hungry shark.
Despite offering little in the way of originality Jaws 2 isn’t actually that bad. Holding up against Spielberg’s film was always going to be tough job for anyone and it is probably wise that he and others didn’t want to try. That much of the success of Jaws was down to Benchley’s source material, the cast, the characters and the freshness of the idea meant this sequel was behind the eight ball from the start.
Just as Spielberg did, Roy Scheider refused to appear in this film but was essentially bribed into doing so when he upset Universal by pulling out of The Deer Hunter at the last minute and they agreed to let him out of his contract if he made this film first. Richard Dreyfuss refused to reprise his role as Matt Hooper because Spielberg was not directing, which left Brody to play de facto shark expert, as well as only having dim-witted deputy Jeff Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer) to play off.
The biggest problem with the story is its biggest plot hole – Mayor Vaughn seemed to have learned nothing from the previous drama involving the shark. We know that for people in power, money and status are everything but even the most arrogant of people learn by their mistakes, surely?
In fact how did Vaughn stay in the role after his botch first time round led to so many deaths? But I digress, there is something very lazy and unrealistic about the idea of someone like Vaughn not realising that Brody was right before so there is a very good chance he be right now, so he should have given him the benefit of the doubt instead of being the bad guy once in making the exact same mistake twice!
Still, I am sure this is deemed mostly irrelevant as it is all about the shark and on the menu this time round are a bunch of obnoxious American teens. This focus on the youngsters does smack of trying to tap into that market of teens dancing in the aisles to Grease (which came out at the same time as Jaws 2) so we don’t really feel bad when they are eaten.
The shark itself is more plastic looking than its predecessor but equally as inert due to dodgy electronics but the gruesome burn marks from the earlier boat explosion give it extra aesthetic menace. Whether a Great White is capable of pulling a helicopter out of the air as it does here might be pushing its credibility as a dogged predator a bit too far but it is no less hokey that the fate it meets in the climax.
One the plus side the underwater photography is rather spectacular given the technology of the time, whilst the cinematography above the surface of the sun kissed waters and golden sands at sunset are gorgeous. Much of the movement and energy of the beach scenes from the first film is recreated here but you sort of wish director Jeannot Szwarc would put his own stamp on things.
Another thing Szwarc was chastised over was revealing too much of the shark early on instead of following the Spielberg tactic of building up to it. Szwarc argued that we already know what the shark looked like from the first film so there is no surprise to be had, and while this is valid, part of the suspense from before is missing as a result.
It was reported that Roy Scheider constantly fought with Szwarc – an actual fist fight allegedly happened – which didn’t help but Scheider vowed to do the best for the film and his reprisal of Brody is still spot on, but the absence of Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw hurts the character, making him look lonely.
So, is Jaws 2 an unnecessary sequel? As easy as it is to say “yes” it’s equally easy to argue “no” as it carries much of the spirit of the original and is definitely entertaining enough. Whether the two other Jaws sequels are unnecessary though, might be easier to answer.